Reflections on Japan

There’s so much to love about Japan… yes the food is incredible, the architecture boundary-pushing and that infamous contrast of old and new spellbinding. But for me, it’s the countless everyday things that make up why it’s such a unique, calming and beautiful place, and one that I really feel very at home in.

Biking everywhere

tokyobike

From mumma’s with their babies, old women carrying shopping, salarymen in suits and school kids with their bags… everyone gets around on two wheels and  it’s both super convenient and incredibly equalising. No one’s in a hurry. There’s no car vs bike tension that exists in other cities. It’s just a way to get from A to B without a hint of hipster cool.

Eating alone is okay

standup food

Eating solo can sometimes feel awkward, like everyone is watching every move you make. In Japan though, while meals can be very ceremonious and special, other times there’s something purely functional about them. Stand up soba, counter-top udon restaurants, noisy ramen bars. Whether it’s the food ticket you purchase on entry, the partitions that divide people facing each other or the noisy slurping going on around you, it’s just a place to get meal before you’re on your way again – nothing awkward or judgey about it. big thumbs up.

Smaller is better

small bars

So many restaurants, bars and cafes in Japan are tiny. Limitations of space? Realities of a saturated market? Whatever the reason, there’s something super satisfying about grabbing a drink in these mini one-man operations where the same person is preparing drinks, cooking food and clearing glasses. While you may have to wait a little longer, if there’s other people occupying the precious few chairs, chances are you’ll strike up a conversation with someone or just be so much more open to noticing what’s going on around you. Where so many people wouldn’t dream of opening a bar that doesn’t have a scalable business model behind it, here it’s someone’s labour of love. Love it.

Uniformity

japan schoolkids

There really is a uniformity to Japan. Salarymen always wear short-sleeved white shirts in summer. They all carry a similar style bag. They all have it on their laps on the train. It seems like a generalisation, but when it’s all around you, it’s hard not to notice. School kids all wear their uniforms exactly the same way. When it rains, everyone has gumboots, a raincoat and an umbrella. People are SO aware of rain in Japan. I’m not sure if it’s because so few people drive in Tokyo and everyone is exposed to the weather on their commutes, but the minute there’s a drop of rain, no one misses a beat in whipping out their umbrella.

tokyo rain

Bowing

japan -bow

This wonderful tradition is still so strong in Japan, whether you’re buying a bottle of water in a convenience store or farewelling people after a meeting. It’s a humbling act, to bow your head to someone, and a very meaningful gesture that has transitioned so comfortably into modern life. Seeing colleagues farewell each other after something significant still makes me laugh though. It’s like a bow off. Who will turn away first?

Sleeping, everywhere

salarymen

People seem to sleep a lot more in public in Japan. Maybe it’s that so many more people use public transport and have really long commutes. But I’ve been to parties where people fell asleep on the couch. Also, in class people slept all the time. We’d think it was rude. Here, again, there’s a functional practicality to it. It’s natural and normal. I’m tired, I feel comfortable here, so I’m going to have a nap.

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Viking

So many wonderful things to do in Finland. I reckon we start with sugar, carbohydrate and caffeine.

Our good friends at Kinfolk recommend Good Life Coffee in which is in the up and coming Helsinki neighbourhood of Kallio. Kallio has the Hakaniemi market and the Workers Housing Musuem to check out as well.

Good Life

As for the sugar and carbohydrate – Finnish Pulla Buns are the way to go. Apparently they and their multiple variations and flavours are everywhere.

boston-pulla

If sweet ain’t your thing then I think the equivalent of the Maltese pastizzi is the Finnish Karelian pastry (or you can get your mouth around it – karjalanpiirakka).

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And good ol’ Buzzfeed recommends 42 Finnish foods to have a gnash on. Vispipuuro anyone?

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I figure post gorge we’d better do some walking. The Helsinki Design district has over 200 design focused stores – might have a few bits and bobs for Bourke.

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And after all that design stimulation we might need a minute to be mindful at Kampin Kapelli – The Silence Chapel.

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The second oldest city in Finland, dating back to the 13th century, Porvoo is worth a little explore.

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If a World Heritage site is what you are after then we’ll need to hit up Suomenlinna.

Finnish-Suomenlinna-Fortress

And to top it off perhaps we’ll be up for a Michelin Star – six restaurants have them!

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Or maybe we’ll want some more traditional fare at Seahorse.

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And you know my love of lounges – tell me – is Finnair part of my network? If so lets have a unisex sauna as we leave Finland!

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Guess what?

The blog’s back! Just in time for some research into Europe!

First stop, Munich, for some beer swillin-good times at Oktoberfest. We’ll get outfits from here on Friday, so we can be sure to look the part:

kaufhofand watch the procession of beer carts on Saturday when they crack the first barrel ceremoniously. Swill swill.

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We’ve got a long lunch with everyone on Sunday at one of the famous beer halls, then we’re off for a late night flight to Copenhagen, Denmark – land of Borgen, open sandwiches and effortlessly chic cyclists!

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We’ll grab coffee from here, midday smørrebrød from here, pre-dinner sips from here, and maybe a late bite here.

Definitely need to rent bikes and free-wheel our way around the city.

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Up next, Finland! xx

Sing-a-long-a Sound of Music

On Saturday night I went to the Sound of Music singalong at the Arts Centre, State Theatre.

Wowser, what a night. I never would have thought there were so many Von Trapp family fanatics living here in Melbourne! I started feeling like the only person at a fancy dress party not in costume when I found myself surrounded by nuns, marias, edelweiss,  leiderhosen and the Austrian hills in the theatre foyer.

It was all pretty hilarious. We were given a bag of goodies which we had to use in some way during the performance to interact with the movie – along with singing to every song – which most people in the audience didn’t even need the captions for. It went a bit like this:

How – [thrust flash card forward]

do you solve a problem like

maria?

how do you catch a cloud and pin it down? how do you find a word that means

maria?

a flibbertigibbet

a willo’ the whisp

(yep that one was a bit questionable!)

a clown?

It was quite funny – we had to use the flash cards throughout the song and, boy, it got quick… stressful at times, I was pretty happy when the dialogue kicked in.

We also had magical moments – when Maria is asking Captain Von Trapp for some fabric to make play clothes and he says “NO”, we madly start waving little cloth swatches at the screen screaming “behind you, behind you!”

and then, miraculously, Maria turns around and notices the drapes in her bedroom!

We also had to slowly wave our little Edelweiss flowers when the Captain sang ‘Edeweiss’ –and when Maria and the Captain, Gaylord, finally kiss, we fired off party poppers (mainly to keep everyone awake)

Overall a very entertaining night. I think having to hiss at the Baroness  every time she came onscreen was a bit much, she has a fair bit of a lot of screen time… but you don’t often get the chance to clap, shout, scream and boo in public outside a footy match so I think it has my vote.  Now for the Rocky Horror Picture Show!

Instagram

I downloaded, like everyone else it seem, the instagram app that lets you apply funky retro filters to photos on your iphone and share them. Warning, it’s highly addictive and kind of brilliant how it can take a crummy photo and turn it into something artistic, grainy and uber cool.

I went to lunch at my grandma’s on Sunday, I was a little hungover and the bowl of pasta looked like such carby goodness I couldn’t resist taking a photo. After the instagram treatment it looks unreal. saucy goodness.

pasta lunch

Why do things look so good with a filter on them? That nostalgic film harks back to a simpler time and people always look a little browner, a little warmer and, possibly, a little happier?

Marsaxlokk rooftop in Malta… hmmm, if I could beam myself back there right now I’d be the happiest person!

ahhh, nearly spring.

Oh, and this little beauty taken in the Nicholas Building in the city – is it 2011 or 1942?

Paris hat

Kitchen mural

We bought this awesome mural a few weeks ago from surfaceview.co.uk called ‘Poolside Gossip’. It was snapped by Slim Aarons in 1970 at a desert house in Palm Springs designed by Richard Neutra for Edgar Kaufman. Today it got pasted on the kitchen wall and after delicious dumplings and a photography exhibition, we rushed home to check it out.

And it’s COOL.

Poolside gossip

and here’s the view when you’re doing the dishes:-

and when you’re picking a piece of fruit!

Mural fruit bowl

I’m a big fan xx

As modern as tomorrow…

is a current exhibition at the State Library of Victoria. It focuses on photography in postwar Melbourne and beautifully illustrates the profound impact events in history have on shaping culture.

Almost all of the featured artists came to Melbourne as European immigrants during World War II and introduced a new approach to photography and how we contemplate art and industry.

Tonight we dropped in after work to find we had the whole gallery to ourselves. It was so refreshing wandering around alone with such beautiful works. Below is Athol Shmith’s ‘A Bouquet to your Beauty’ – snapped a bit lopsidedly by me…

It was cool to see beautiful photos of people at work – I loved Wolfgang Sievers photos and it was rad to see industrial shots of the ’60s taken in our trendy modern day inner city suburbs like Brunswick. 

Below is a photo attributed to Helmut Newton of Maggie Tabberer c. 1960 , the cheekbones! Apparently Newton first called Maggie by her nickname, before that she had only been known as Margaret, and she has been known as Maggie ever since.

Typical Melbourne to always have something interesting going  on. Bookended with HuTong dumplings and beers and coming home to see our awesome new kitchen mural = fab night. xx